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Posts from the ‘review’ Category

rabbit, fox … and turtle

Some cyclists are fleet like rabbits, some quick or clever like foxes … as for me, I am more like a turtle.  Usually getting waylaid on the side of the road with my camera, and having to be prodded to get moving.  Eventually I manage to get where I am going.

Yesterday we decided to explore some new territory.  I’ve had a local route book on my shelf for almost a year now – (Chattanooga area) Bicycling Routes by Elle Colquitt.  It’s filled with nice maps, cue sheets, and route descriptions for some interesting-looking rides in the Chattanooga area and into north Georgia.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t made as much as much use of it as I should.  I tend to be a creature of habit, and end up riding my favorite roads more often than  exploring new ones.  Like I said, I am a turtle.

While many of the routes would (realistically) necessitate driving to some not-so-nearby starting point, one of the routes begins almost out my front door.   It’s called “Chasing Down the Rabbit and the Fox”, named for Rabbit Valley Road and Black Fox Road.

I am guessing that nearly half of the photos on this blog come from points along Rabbit Valley Road and White Oak Valley; they are the roads we tend to ride a lot.  They are beautiful and bicycle friendly.  I have established friendships with many cows along the way. But a good portion of the Black Fox Road side of the loop was new and un-ridden territory for us … so we decided to give it a go.  And I am glad we did.

I would describe the route as very easy – a great leisurely Sunday ride for us turtle-types.  Mostly gently rolling, good pavement, low traffic.  The hillier parts are ones we are already familiar with, on the White Oak Valley side.  One very short “whoop-y” little climb, but otherwise easy on the legs and lovely to the eye.  We ran across several other small groups of cyclists along the way, which makes me believe it is a pretty popular route.  And while I took some photos, I was focussed on taking in the new scenery and enjoying the ride.  So much so that I didn’t pay enough attention to regularly sipping from my water bottles, and ended up with a post-ride sun/dehydration headache.  Dumbness.

The first of April brings another #30daysofbiking to the table.  I applaud several of my friends who are making a go of it again – Myrna, BlueAllez (aka FritterMan), and DIsabled Cyclist.  While I really enjoyed my past experiences with both #30daysofbiking, and my subsequent #330daysofbiking, I have debated about committing to another. I may, I may not.  We’ll see.  At this point, I am not officially putting my name on the list, but may try and keep a Flickr set – one photo from each day.  If I make it through to the end, I may write a post.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, a tip of my cycling cap to my friends – and I wish you all many happy miles and adventures.  For me, silly business as usual … and a few scenes from yesterday.

(Can you spy the cyclist?)

utilitaire 7.12: the good, the bad, & the windy

You know you’re battling a decent headwind when you have to pedal going downhill.  Such was the case for the day’s Utilitaire ride (which actually took place yesterday, but I was to lazy to post last night).

The destination was to be #1: Work.  And while I am not technically employed by the Red Cross, my volunteer “job” with them is about as close as I get to having to go “to work”.  Heading out today I knew there was rain in the forecast, so as most cyclists know, the best insurance against having it actually rain is to pack rain gear.  I also decided to just leave the “real” camera at home, as I didn’t want to mess with waterproofing measures  (and I apologize in advance for another series of iPhonography in this post, as well my lengthiness today … hit the delete button if you wish.)

I battled a nasty headwind all the way in.  Gusty, brutal and not so much fun.   Decided to stop for coffee and catch up on a little bit of reading before hitting the office.

From coffee stop to the office, the scenery is always fascinating to me.  I like riding through the old industrial district, passing by the old Hardwick Woolen Mill.  Last month, a fire destroyed the Cleveland Chair Company.  The reports have pointed to arson.  Demolition of the remnants of the building(s) have turned the scene into a huge and textured pile of ruins.  (And at this point I was hitting myself for not bringing along my other camera).

riding by the ruins of the Cleveland Chair Co. and the old Hardwick Woolen Mill

I spent the rest of the day at the office, scrubbing disaster response case files – making sure the paperwork is in order and that all of the information has been correctly entered into the computer system.  While I was at the office, I got some very sad and troubling news that had been announced the day before.  Restructuring and funding cuts from both the American Red Cross and United Way are eliminating key positions in our Chapter.  Our tiny paid staff has now been reduced to two.  Two.

 The Bradley County Emergency Aid (funded by United Way, closely connected with our Red Cross Chapter work) has been cut, along with the women who have worked so tirelessly helping people in crisis in our community.  Just as troubling, we are losing our ARC Volunteer Coordinator – the amazing woman who schedules our disaster team rotations, recruits and arranges for training of our volunteers, and holds our volunteer staff together at the seams.  It’s shocking, troubling, and I can’t even begin to envision what the future holds for our local Chapter.  It is difficult enough to recruit capable, willing and trained volunteers to fill all of the positions – from teaching CPR/First Air/AED to fundraising to disaster response – but if they expecting the volunteer coordination duties to be taken over by our stretched-too-thin volunteer staff, I can’t even begin to imagine what is to come.  I think it spells disaster, ironically.

Needless to say, it was a tough afternoon in the office.  It’s difficult to see anyone lose their job, even harder when it happens to friends and people I have so much respect for.

Left the office and headed back into town in fading light.  Decided to hook up with my son (on his way home from tennis practice) and my husband (on his way home from work) for a quick bite to eat.  No sooner did we sit down, I receive a weather-alert text on my phone:  hail-producing severe thunderstorm warning.  Yay.  Storms were already spawning hail, lightning and even a tornado warning directly west of us, and the fun was now heading our way.

So, do I attempt to beat the storms and head home as planned on my bike, or do I give up the night riding and toss the bike in the back of my husband’s car and hitch a ride home?  I had my rain gear.  I had insurance.  I decided to ride.

Now a quick word about night riding.  I won’t go into a full-blown review of bicycular (I like to make up words) lighting – we have a boxful of various lights in our household, but I will tell you a little bit about the lights that work very well for me.

On my helmet, I use a Light & Motion Vis 360, which I absolutely love.  As the name says, visible from all sides – front, rear, sides.  Spotlight in the front (with amber sidelights), and blinking rear light (also with amber sidelights).  On and off the helmet in a snap, long light life, USB rechargeable.

On my bike, I use a Niterider MiNewt 600 Cordless (which replaces an older corded MiNewt Mini that is still in our stash), along with a couple of PB SuperFlash Blinkies on my seatpost and messenger bag.  The MiNewt 600 is a big improvement on the corded Mini; although a little heavier, it is brighter, cordless, easier to mount on and off of the bike, also USB rechargeable.

My own philosophy on night riding is kind of two-fold:

  • In town, among streetlights, storefronts, traffic, it’s imperative to be seen.  Lots of lights front and rear, top and bottom, and my high-vis yellow jacket with reflective striping do a good job making me visible.
  • Outside of town, when I hit the rural two-lane backroads, sparsely populated with no streetlights, and effectively pitch-black under a cloudy sky with no moonlight, it’s not only a matter of being seen, but being able to see.  I find that the two-light system works best for me here – my headlamp to a point further in the forward distance, and my bike-mounted light giving me a bright pool just ahead to better see pavement conditions and road debris.

nightriding: in town and on pitch-black rural roads

Needless to say, the ride home was exhilarating.  The winds that were my foe on the way into town in the morning had now become my friend as a tailwind.  It was like flying home, without much effort.  Record time, I think.  Outside of town I flushed a couple of deer in the roadside woods – fortunately not onto the road in front of me.  The sky would momentarily light up with lighting in distant clouds, and the thunder would rumble a few moments later.  It was an exciting adventure.  But I arrived home before even a drop of rain fell.

Perfect timing; it’s what happens when you pack insurance.  😉

how it begins

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several hours working with a bike fitter – something I never would have envisioned myself doing.  I am certainly no speed-racer type, I’m not an uber high-mileage junkie, nor did I ever feel like I was having problems (discomfort, pain, whatever) with any of my bikes.  As I have written before, I’m probably considered by most as not being one of those serious cyclist types.  Dedicated, enthusiastic … yes.  “Serious“, skilled, fast … not so much.

So what was I doing?  For one thing, I am a proponent of efficiency and ergonomics and, I suppose, conservation of energy.  If I can find an easier way to do something, do it more efficiently and with less effort, you can bet I am signing on.

Several years ago I worked with a couple of swimming coaches for similar reasons.  It’s not that I had any intention of competing, or swimming the English Channel, but I was interested in becoming more efficient in the water, more streamlined (or “slippery” in the water, as they liked to say), along with wanting to minimize wear-and-tear to my rotator cuffs.  It was amazing what a few adjustments to body alignment, rotation and sweet-spot drills did for me; I cut my stroke count down by 8-10 strokes/50 yds, I am preserving my shoulders, I love the nearly “effortless” feeling, and I am faster.  (OK, maybe just a little less slow.)  For me it simply means I can swim farther in less time and with less wear-and-tear, which is about all I’m after.

Eddie, working the fitting numbers ... Cycology Bicycles, Maryville TN

Back to bikes – and the bike fitting.  It was a pretty fascinating experience.  My fitter, Eddie from Cycology Bicycles, was a really wonderful guy – very patient, extremely detail-oriented and knowledgeable, and great about explaining the significance of all of the measurements, angles and adjustments he was measuring and making changes to – not to mention he had a very impressive curriculum vitae (along with some amazing photos)  of “serious” professional cyclists who come to him for fittings.  (Yeah, next to them, I did feel like a bit of a doofus, I will admit.)

I was measured from top to bottom and sideways and back.  Height, weight, femur length, inseam, wingspan, my level of flexibility, you name it.  Eddie also had an interesting self-engineered set of electronic scales he could use to measure weight distribution while I was on my bike – it’s an interesting ratio to look at, as he adjusts saddle height and other positioning. He took a look (and more measurements) at my position on my Dolce, which ended up being a remarkably near-perfect fit for me with only a couple of areas that could be changed – handlebar width (narrower), possibly my crank length (shorter), and some tweaking to my cleats.

on the Serotta fitting bike

Finally, he moved me onto the Serotta fitting bike – an amazing little bike-like device enabling multiple adjustments with countless combinations for riding styles.    Basically, he sets it up with his calculated settings for ultimate bike fit for the rider, and then can tweak it from there.  It was really remarkable to feel the difference a slight adjustment of angle/height/length could make.  But now I know what my ideal “numbers” are, because I was able to feel them.

So where is all of this leading?  Well, for one thing, the adjustments made to my Dolce have made it even more comfortable and efficient for me to ride.  After my experience, I fully endorse a bike fitting session by a qualified fitter – it’s not only an education, but you will be amazed by the changes that small adjustments will make, regardless of your riding style and level of cycling seriousness.  Do it.

But there was another motive for my fitting, and you may have already guessed.  After years of lusting after her Sweetpea bikes, and having some great phone conversations with Natalie Ramsland over the past few weeks, she is now building a custom bike for me.  The frame geometry is custom, designed for my optimum set of measurements; she and Eddie have nailed down the perfect fit.  And beyond the frame, this bike will be fabulous in every aspect … Natalie has an uncanny sense for knowing my aim, mechanically and aesthetically.  The build list reads like a perfect dessert menu: Brooks, Chris King, Sugar Wheel Works…

Most of all, I love that my bike is being built by an incredibly inspiring and talented woman framebuilder –  a rare thing in the predominantly male bicycle-building world .  Watch her video, read her blog; her bicycles are stunning, and her thoughts are insightful and meaningful.   I feel we are on the same page, in so many ways, philosophically.

Another bike?  Do I need it?  I am not sure … What I do know is that I will love this bike, it will fit me in every way, it will be beautiful, it will make me happy to ride it,  and I will cherish it and everything that went into making it become uniquely and specially mine.  The tentative plan is to make a trip to Portland to have Natalie do the final fit once the build is complete, and to hopefully have a chance to explore the amazing world of Portland bicycle culture for a few days.  Fingers crossed.

And so, this is how it begins.

revealing my measurements ... 😉

a “Sleeveless in Seattle” jersey review & give-away

A while back, the very nice people from YMX (YellowMan Expression) offered to send me a summer cycling jersey to review – along with another to give to one of my readers.  And although I know that the YMX official name for this jersey is the Maori Spiral Cycling Jersey, when I saw the graphic on the back it somehow brought to mind tribal art from the Pacific Northwest.   And as my silly mind typically works in baffling and stupid ways – not to mention that I have always been a sucker for really bad puns along with an addiction to romantic comedy movies of the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks variety –  I couldn’t help but think:  Sleeveless in Seattle.  (OK, I know, I know … slap me upside the head for that one).

After cycling in this jersey for the past few (very warm) weeks, I will confess that it has become a favorite part of my cycling wardrobe.  Cycling jerseys, with their fitted, clingy nature, have a tendency to make many of us feel very body-conscious.  And not every manufacturer has mastered a flattering cut for a woman’s body.  In this regard, YMX really delivers.  The jersey is long enough where it needs to be, providing a flattering woman’s silhouette without being binding or too revealing.

I believe the cow gave a nod of approval for this jersey...

The MadKool technical fabric is light, forgiving and oh-so comfortable on the hottest days – and smooth as silk to the touch.  While the color combination of the graphics on this particular piece are a little more vibrant than what I (personally) would typically choose, I will admit that I appreciate the visibility factor while on the road, and I love the tribal pattern.  Personally, I have my eye on a few of their long-sleeved designs for the upcoming cooler months – for both skiing and cycling.  (And if you are a yoga or running enthusiast, they offer a variety of “cross-over” garments – which could be some pretty exciting street-wear as well.)

But there are two areas where I am particularly picky about cycling jerseys – the sleeves/armhole seaming, and the rear pockets.  I’ve often found that other sleeveless jerseys can be uncomfortable due to binding/elastic and seaming around the armholes, but the soft and stretchy MadKool binding on this one is exceptionally comfortable.  No chafing, super comfortable for several hours over the handlebars.

very comfortable in the shoulders, arms (and my apologies - I am a bit challenged when it comes to being both behind and in front of the camera at the same time)

 

The top gusset on the shoulder also makes this a very comfortable fit throughout the arms and shoulders.   And the triple rear pockets are the ideal length/depth with a secure top binding – exactly what I need when for stowing my camera lens on my back.

By now I am sure I have convinced you that you want one for yourself, right?  Well, the good news is that the very nice people at YMX have told me that they will be giving away another to one of my readers (which would be you).   So how will this happen?  Easy.  Simply leave a comment on this post, and to keep with my “Sleeveless in Seattle” silliness, be sure to include your favorite romantic comedy in your comment.  For my male readers who may have a partner/wife/girlfriend cyclist in your life who might enjoy a surprise, you can enter too (but you must confess your favorite romantic commedy as well … heh heh).  I will pick a winner at random and be in touch with you (i.e., You’ve Got Mail (?))  about forwarding the appropriate information (size, shipping address, etc.) to the folks at YMX.

And if you’d like to be entered in a sweepstakes to win a $300 YMX wardrobe, simply “like” their Facebook page:  here.

Now to return to my Netflix queue…… 😉

Freeloader transplant

 

evening glamour shot

Thanks to my awesome friend Rick and the great people at Xtracycle, I am now sporting a brand spanking new set of Freeloaders on Tenzing, my Xtracycle.  (In Xtracycle-speak for anyone not familiar, the Freeloaders are the rear  sling-type “bags” on the rear rack.)

The “transplant” was a breeze, and I am really impressed with the new and improved design features.  Topping my list of favorite improvements:

  • heavy-duty coated fabric, making the interior pocket quite waterproof
  • easy on and off – thanks to clips on the tabs (see below)
  • small weep-hole for drainage at the bottom of the sling
  • end gussets in the heavy-duty coated fabric, rather than mesh
  • sleek profile, uncluttered design

 

removing the old, installing the new … and the bare bones
can really feel a difference in the new coated fabric vs. the old fabric – very substantial and durable
really, really like the new clip attachment vs. the old sewn down tabs; can now remove the Freeloaders without having to remove the rack rails – very quick swap
transplant complete!

There are two small features of the old Freeloaders that I will miss.  The old version had a small mesh zipper pocket on the face of the inner compartment.  I really liked this little pocket for stashing small things I wanted to keep visible, and it was a perfect size for a spare tube.  The other change is more cosmetic – rather than the red reflective patches on the back end flaps, the clip tabs have woven reflective stripes … not sure if this will make much difference with visibility/luminosity, but I’d be curious to do a night-time comparison.

 

the little pocket I will miss (old version)

When all is said and done, the improvements in the new Freeloaders make these another design triumph for Xtracycle, hands down.  The fabric and the clip attachment system can’t be beat.  Functionally, I expect them to perform even better than the old, especially with the improved water-resistance and interior weephole.  And the cleaner, sleeker look/aesthetic is beautiful.  Well done, gentlemen!!  (And thanks again, Rick!)  🙂

I’ve spent the past two days “testing” them out – a grocery run, and hauling camera gear out among the Holsteins.  Same amazing functionality, beautiful new look … I am a very happy hauler, but I’ll let you be the judge.  😉

 

yesterday's grocery run

... and on the old bridge today

... and looking for Holsteins (#330daysofbiking Day 274)

happy haulidays!

 

tis the season for festive Xtracycles ~ #330daysofbiking, day 236

It’s that time of year again … festive lights, festive bikes, winter riding, wishlists, and all of the riding that goes along with the holiday agenda – from the baking to the shopping to the shipping.  And there is no other bike that can get it all done-with-fun like an Xtracycle.

There has been a lot of chatter in recent months about the growing selection of cargo bikes on the market.  And kind of like the great Pillsbury Bake-Off, the cargo bike discussion seems to be taking on elements of a “Hauls(bury)Bike-Off”.  From Xtracycles to bucket bikes to bakfeits to beer-on-tap bikes, it’s a great discussion to be having … for in my opinion, any bicycle that enables someone to substitute bike for car is a wonderful thing – and nothing does that better than a cargo bike.

However, if we ever get down to casting votes, I cast mine without hesitation for Xtracycle.  If I could only own one bike, it would be my Xtracycle.  No question, no debate.  It is my favorite bike above all others, and the one I could not do without.   And as I’ve looked at and contemplated some of the other contenders, I’ve been able to reach a few conclusions about why Xtracycle rules the cargo bike contest….

  • No other cargo bike can accomodate irregularly-shaped loads as easily as an Xtracycle. You want to haul a Christmas tree,  a kayak, a weed-eater, a vacuum cleaner or another bicycle?  On an Xtracycle, it’s a piece of cake.  We’ve hauled them all; easy to load in a variety of ways, easy to secure, easy to ride with.  Even for a silly old lady like myself.
  • I like the fact that my cargo sits behind me.  Other cargo bike enthusiasts might like that Christmas tree or preschooler directly in front of them, but I like to have an unobstructed and distraction-less view of what’s ahead, thanks.
  • You won’t out-grow an Xtraycle.  While kid-hauling bikes like the Taga or the Feetz might be a fun way to carry your pre-schoolers, I can’t help think this is a short-lived use of a pricey bike.  Kids grow – quickly.  Why not carry your pre-cyclists on a PeaPod (or two) on the back of an Xtracycle for that short period of time?  In the end, you’ll continue to love and use an Xtracycle for countless things, rather than being stuck with a limited-use stroller-bike after a few short years.
  • If I need to take my Xtracycle somewhere else (out of state, or beyond timely riding distance) I can carry my Xtracycle on my vehicle.  Using an extended rail on our Thule roof rack, we’ve transported our Xtracycles out of state for vacations and other weekend cycling trips.  I can’t see putting a Madsen or a Bakfeit or a Feetz on top of my car nearly as easily, if at all.
  • Affordability.  The ability to convert an existing bike (from road to commuter to mountain or whatever you might already own) to an Xtracycle requires minimal investment when compared to buying an entire dedicated cargo bike.  And of course, if you’ve got some spare cash, the Xtracycle Radish or Big Dummy are beautiful, quality builds and very competitively priced – and the folks at Xtracycle are among the friendliest, most generous and helpful bike people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. (And they’re not paying me to say this. 😉
  • But the biggest reason of all to own an Xtracycle … it is beautiful bike  just to ride.  Even when I don’t have to haul anything, I love being out on my X.  It’s a beautiful ride – on the back roads or in traffic, in town or on the bike path.  I don’t have to make a conscious decision when I head out – like, “do I need to take the big bucket bike, or utility trailer today?”   I ride my Xtracycle like other folks ride a road bike or a commuter – and if I get a phone call along the way telling me we’re out of orange juice at home, I always have the easy ability to stop and pick some up.  I just can’t imagine that I would ever do the same amount of non-cargo everyday riding on bucket bike or bakfeit.

If I were Santa, I would bring everyone an Xtracycle … But in the meantime, I’ve combed through my pile of Xtracycle photos from the past few years to give you idea of the fun that you,  too, could be having on the best cargo bike EVER. Put one on your wish-list … because you never know what Santa has in his bag 😉

Happy Haulidays* and Happy Pedaling!

(*Thanks to my friend Rick for letting me borrow his clever homonym (haulidays) :-D)

easy-peasy on an Xtracycle ... haul your Christmas tree

... do your holiday gift shopping

... haul your other bike to the shop

... or haul your favorite bike shop guy 🙂

haul a little white snowman ...

... or a little white dog

haul a boat to the river this way ...

... or haul it this way

haul your groceries ...

... or your garden

take your friends on a bikepicnic ...

... or go on a bikamping trip

or just take a beautlful ride on a beautiful bike: Xtracycle

 

“Elisabetta”

 

“Elisabetta” ~ Globe Live 3 Mixte

Meet Elisabetta.  By now you should know that I’m not called @morebikes for nothing …

 

Scott (The Culprit's) Jorg & Olif "Opa" dutch bike (Flickr)

Several years ago, I became smitten with the idea of a beautiful “city bike” after seeing several cycling videos about Amsterdam, and this beautiful photo of Scott’s Jorg & Olif “Opa”.  I argued with myself over the practicality: would a 3-speed or 8-speed upright city bike, no matter how stunning to look at, really be a practical bike for me to own?  And I won’t even get into arguments over curbing excess, needless consumption, etc.  I certainly didn’t need another bike.  But – good grief – they are so beautiful, I just couldn’t help lusting after one … admittedly with some misguided mid-life-crisis fantasies of becoming a Beautiful Godzilla:

The Beautiful Godzilla is a particular kind of urban female cyclist who rides as though the rest of the world were created simply to yield to her … She also rides an old three-speed or perhaps a 10-speed or Dutch city bike, carries her handbag on the edge of her handlebars and if she has a basket it usually contains a small dog or perhaps a baguette… Her approach to cycling in a densely populated city is a combination of self-entitlement and Mr Magoo-type dumb luck…. Like any self-entitled person, she can’t imagine a car would possibly hit her, even if she’s riding against traffic and it’s coming right at her. Actually, you sort of find yourself disappointed when it doesn’t. And just like Mr Magoo would wander into a construction site and a girder would materialise right as he was about to walk off the scaffolding, the Beautiful Godzilla blithely rides through red lights and busy intersections, emerging on the other side unscathed and just as photogenic as she was when she entered it.

Why other cyclists don’t like them: They should be dead but aren’t.

~ BikeSnob NYC, The Bike Snob’s Guide to Cycling Tribes

OK, maybe not quite.  Lol.  But still, the yearning to have a pretty, step-through, latte-and-lunchdate Amsterdam-y Eurobike never faded – and thus, when my bike shop guy, Charles, showed me the 2011 Globe Live 3 Mixte … well, you can guess what happened.  (And I would like to take this opportunity to thank my husband and “sponsor”, Mark, for making this possible! 😉 )

She actually arrived literally the day before we left for Italy, so the first real test rides didn’t take place until our return.  She is not only beautiful to behold, but is quite a dream ride, in that upright, city-cruising-in-a-skirt kind of way.  Lighter and quicker than I expected.  And did I mention – beautiful to look at?  I have ridden her on a couple of 20-mile trips to and around town, and even with only 8 speeds, she handled every incline with ease.  The front integrated rack will carry essentials and more with no difficulty – a loaded messenger bag, a bag of groceries, or even a Godzilla-appropriate designer handbag with miniature dog and baguette.  😉  Or my bag full of camera stuff.

A couple of the details that make her extra special:

  • Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal hub
  • belt drive (!) … (So far, I am loving it; amazingly smooth and quiet)
  • front and rear dual piston hydraulic disc brakes
  • very nifty two-leg foldable kickstand

As you can tell, I am very infatuated.  Sometimes you just have to ride like a Beautiful Godzilla (even if you are just pretending).  😉  Call me if you want to meet up for a latte.

 

super-smooth belt drive

hassle-free internal hub, disc brakes

city bike in the city (Chattanooga) ...

... and just around town